1. Education
Richard Nordquist

A National Grammar Day Grammar Quiz

By March 2, 2012

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To mark National Grammar Day (Sunday, March 4), we offer this short quiz on English grammar--not usage or prescriptive grammar, but what David Crystal calls "the structural foundation of our ability to express ourselves." Take five minutes to respond to the ten questions, and then compare your answers with those at the end of the quiz. . . .

This quiz has moved to A National Grammar Day Grammar Quiz.


March 5, 2012 at 1:55 pm
(1) David says:

I have a B.A. in English Literature, have worked for many years as a technical writer, and have spent the last 10 years tutoring over 400 clients. I took your test and got zero. What does that mean?

March 5, 2012 at 4:21 pm
(2) Phyllis says:

I missed #4 and #10 (the terms threw me), but I’m pleased that I got the other eight questions right. Unfortunately, it’s been over 40 years since formal descriptive grammar (not prescriptive grammar or editing) was taught in most U.S. schools, so we have to depend on sites like yours to understand the wonderful intricacies of English sentences. The quote from Lounsbury at the top is right on target.

Oh, and by the way, I teach high school English (mostly literature, very little grammar). Thank you for your wonderful site.

March 5, 2012 at 4:54 pm
(3) Tujunga Jon says:

!WoW! Great quiz, though a bit sobering. Seventy percent isn’t terrible, but isn’t inflating!

The teenager in me wants to quibble whether these terms and fine distinctions are truly useful–but just the ones I missed, of course! However I do know that the more fine-tuning we understand, the more more tightly we can write.

This wonderful quote came in today’s A.Word.A.Day service from Anu Garg:
“We should not write so that it is possible for the reader to understand us,
but so that it is impossible for him to misunderstand us.”
Quintilian (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus), rhetorician (c. 35-100)

March 5, 2012 at 5:21 pm
(4) Michael Aguglia says:

It may help if (as in my case) English is your second language and if you read the questions carefully. I had nine correct answers.

March 5, 2012 at 5:26 pm
(5) Jessie says:

I clicked on the terms and got all 10 right. Was that cheating?

March 5, 2012 at 6:14 pm
(6) Brenda says:

I don’t mean to sound mean (homophones!), but it doesn’t really surprise me to hear that someone with a BA in English Lit can’t recognize the passive voice.

March 6, 2012 at 4:24 am
(7) Jason says:

Six right, but I’ll do better next year when I’m in 7th grade

March 6, 2012 at 9:42 am
(8) Pedro Sánchez Cedeño says:

Thank you for your fabulous, excellent and extraordinary site. I´ve recommended it to so many people, most of them English teachers (like me) and they have answered my e-mail with a “Thank you very much” . Really, the best on grammar on the web. By the way, I answered the ten questions. I say to my pupils that grammar is like x-raying to a surgeon; like a recipe book for a cook or a blueprint for an architect; but above all, it is there, it exists and as human beings who question everything surrounding us, we are supposed to question why we speak like this or like that and when memory fails, grammar is there to remind us of the right thing to say.

March 7, 2012 at 11:25 am
(9) Colleen says:

I would argue that a few of these answers are incorrect. If you need a good grammar handbook, I recommend the work of Sidney Greembaum.

March 7, 2012 at 11:20 pm
(10) James says:

Dear Colleen,

Sidney Greenbaum (whose ‘Oxford English Grammar’–a descriptive grammar, not a handbook– was published in 1996, the year he died) was indeed a brilliant linguist, one who acknowledged professional disagreements about numerous grammatical concepts and terms.

Rather than vaguely dismiss ‘a few of these answers’ as ‘incorrect’, I suspect that he would have the professional courtesy to identify those few answers and explain why they are faulty. Unless, of course, by ‘incorrect’ you mean ‘I got them wrong.’


March 8, 2012 at 11:34 am
(11) Wendy says:

Not incorrect, but incomplete: While is also used as a relative adverb.

March 8, 2012 at 11:40 am
(12) wendy says:

Re: The English B.A. and tech writer who got a zero: Knowing how to dance is not the same as knowing the names for the steps. Many folks don’t know the names for these concepts (and may not even have bothered to conceptualized them)yet still have a good editing eye and ear.
A seven year old can have been brought up to speak fairly flawless proper grammar and not know any of the the rules consciously.

March 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm
(13) Beth says:

Perhaps readers should think about the quote from Thomas Lounsbury at the start of Richard’s post.

March 9, 2012 at 9:59 am
(14) Susan says:

It’s an interesting quiz, it kept me occupied for quite a long time, now it’s time for my elder daughter to do it – she is at all curious. And yes, it’s sobering… I hoped I’d get better results.

March 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm
(15) Anne Abraham says:

Challenging but thoroughly enjoyed doing it. Such questions do keep teachers alert.

March 9, 2012 at 9:48 pm
(16) Ford Prefect says:

Any quiz that includes Douglas Adams is OK by me. Somebody should break it to Ms Wendy (Smarty-Pants #11) that the subordinating conjunction ‘while’ is not one of the relative adverbs.

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